Trial opens in Windsor detective shooting
Shot and wounded driver during 2014 sting operation
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - A video tape made public in a courtroom for the first time on Friday morning shows that the entire November 2014 encounter between a fugitive heroin dealer, her suspected drug dealer boyfriend, and two Windsor Police detectives that escalated into an officer-involved-shooting occurred from start-to-finish in just nine seconds.
Somewhere right in the middle of those chaotic seconds, Windsor Police Detective Ryan Palmer rapidly fired three bullets through the driver's side window of a small black Honda in a parking lot that he and Detective Christopher Connor had just run up to as they yelled "Police! Show us your hands!" over and over.
On Friday morning, the long awaited trial of Palmer on a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and misdemeanor reckless endangerment began with opening arguments during which Vermont Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Anderson called the detective's decision to shoot "completely unjustifiable."
Vermont Assistant Attorney Generals Matthew Levine (left) and Elizabeth Anderson are prosecuting the charges that were brought as the result of a rare Windsor County Grand Jury indictment
Anderson asked the jurors to look at the evidence, including the video tape of the parking lot that captured the entire sequence of events, over the course of the trial which is expected to last well into next week and ask themselves "what Palmer reasonably could have perceived as he fired those three shots."
"The state is confident you will concluded that Ryan Palmer was never in jeopardy when he shot Jorge Burgos and he simply shot him to stop him from fleeing that day," Anderson said.
Detective Palmer's defense attorney, Dan Sedon, used his opening argument and his cross-examination of the first witness of the day, Brittany Smith, who had been featured on WMUR television just the day before the shooting as New Hampshire's "Fugitive of the Week," to cast doubt on Smith's assertion that she and her boyfriend at the time, former Quechee resident Jorge Burgos, had no inkling whatsoever that afternoon that they had just been tricked into coming to the parking lot beside Ferguson's Auto in Windsor and in so doing had sprung a trap laid by police to apprehend Smith.
Defense Attorney Dan Sedon told the jury that Detective Palmer had coordinated a major drug bust just four days before he shot and wounded Burgos
Smith testified Friday that Burgos, who did not have a valid driver's license at the time and who also had warrants outstanding for his arrest too, drove her to the small parking lot beside Route 5 opposite the American Precision Museum that afternoon in order to pick up what she thought was going to several hundred dollars that a female friend owed her. Smith said she did not realize until quite recently that the person on the other end of the chat over Facebook was actually not her friend and the whole thing was a sting, although as Sedon pointed out during cross-examination, she had stated during the chat that she needed to be sure that the "Veronica" she was chatting with was real and that it was not a set up.
Brittney Smith took the witness stand on Friday and admitted she used to sell heroin when she was addicted to opiates
Before Palmer and Connor drove to the meet up in a pickup truck, they had put on ball caps and plain clothes coats in order to disguise their regular police uniforms but were still wearing their usual gun belts and uniform pants, Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Robert Patten noted in his review of the incident.
Smith and Burgos both told investigators after they were arrested later that same day following an eight-minute-long high-speed chase into Claremont that they thought they were being stuck up, possibly by a landlord from the area they had previously had a dispute with, but Sedon pointed out that the first marked Windsor police cruiser, with its blue lights flashing, could be seen coming down Route 5 and driving right straight over the median in order to get into the parking lot approximately five seconds after detectives Palmer and Connor pulled up in a pickup truck in front of Burgos' car and Burgos started to back up.
The tape shows Burgos' Honda enter the lot, make a slow loop past a pickup truck in which a woman who was serving as a police decoy was sitting, and then position itself facing back out toward the street. That whole process only took 13 seconds, according to the time stamp running on the video.
Then the pickup with the two detectives speeds into view and parks at a diagonal angle about a car length in front of the Honda. Immediately, as the two detectives jump out with their guns drawn and start running toward the Honda it backs up two or three car lengths and comes to a stop. That takes five seconds and it is at that point that both Palmer and Conner later told state police investigators that they could hear and see Borgus revving the engine and turning the wheel left toward Palmer before Borgus "matted it" in an alleged attempt to run Palmer over and escape.
The tape is far enough away that exact point at which Palmer opens fire can't be seen but it is only another four seconds before the Honda has rushed forward so far that it is actually on Route 5 and heading south out of sight with both Windsor police cruisers, the one that had already made it into the parking lot and the one that was still out on Route 5, headed right after it.
The prosecution maintains that Palmer was not directly in front of the car when he opened fire and therefore should not have been placed in such immediate fear of imminent harm as to provide for justifiable self-defense.
Detective Connor told investigators in the days following the incident that even though he had his gunsights trained on Borgus he did not shoot because both Smith and Palmer were within his line of fire; however, Connor “adamantly” backed up Palmer’s assertion that he if he had “not been able to sidestep the car” he would have been run over, according to the state police report.
At least two of the three rounds Palmer fired struck Burgos in his left arm, requiring him to undergo surgery and spend several days in the hospital after he was captured.
Smith initially had difficulty composing herself before she spent over an hour answering questions
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